Mindfulness & the Pro Social Classroom

It is estimated that only in Britain 20% of young people are suffering from a mental condition such as anxiety or depression (ONS, 2014).

The manner in which these mental health conditions are managed has an important impact on educational attainment and academic performance (Patel et al, 2007). There is strong evidence that children with mental disorders are much more likely to take time off school or even to have been excluded because of bad behaviour (Green et al, 2005). Similarly, depressed adolescents are less likely to enrol in college and graduate from high school (Fletcher, 2008). Additionally, mental health conditions, especially attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and anxiety disorders, have large negative effects on academic performance and premature withdrawal from school (Currie & Stabile, 2009; Van Ameringen, Mancini, & Farvolden, 2003).

The Mindfulness All Party Parliamentary Group recommended making mindfulness in schools a priority for development and research. They went on to say that mindfulness programmes are popular with both students and teachers, and research has shown promising potential, with an impact on a wide range of measures, including wellbeing, executive function, emotional self-regulation and improved relationships.

Over the past two decades, multiple surveys have indicated that educators, parents, and the public recognise the need for a broad educational agenda to improve academic performance and enhance students’ social-emotional competence, character, health, and civic engagement (Metlife, 2002; Public Agenda, 1994, 1997, 2002; Rose & Gallup, 2000). In addition to promoting students’ academic achievement, this agenda also focuses on helping students interact in socially skilled and respectful ways. These include the practice of positive, safe, and healthy behaviours; contributing ethically and responsibly (peer group, family, school, and community); and possessing basic competencies, work habits, and values as a foundation for meaningful employment and engaged citizenship (Elias et al., 1997; Jackson & Davis, 2000; Learning First Alliance, 2001; Osher, Dwyer, & Jackson, 2002).

“Socially and emotionally competent teachers set the tone of the classroom by developing supportive and encouraging relationships with their students, designing lessons that build on student strengths and abilities, establishing and implementing behavioural guidelines in ways that promote intrinsic motivation, coaching students through conflict situations, encouraging cooperation among students, and acting as a role model for respectful and appropriate communication and exhibitions of prosocial behaviour” (Jennings & Greenberg, 2009, p.491).

More than half of people working in education feel their job has had a negative impact on their mental health (Association of Teachers and Lecturers, 2014).

 Teachers are challenged to balance the different learning needs of students while at the same time managing the behaviours that occur in the classroom. When teachers lack the skills and resources to effectively manage the social and emotional challenges within the particular context of their environment, children demonstrate lower levels of on-task behaviour and performance (Marzano, Marzano, & Pickering, 2003). Additionally, the deteriorating climate is marked by increases in troublesome student behaviours, and teachers become emotionally exhausted as they try to manage them. Under these conditions, teachers may resort to reactive and excessively punitive responses that do not teach self-regulation and may contribute to a self-sustaining cycle of classroom disruption (Osher et al., 2007).

Emotionally exhausted teachers are at risk of becoming cynical, stressed and may eventually feel they have little to offer or gain from continuing, and so drop out of the teaching profession. Others may stay – although unhappily – coping by maintaining a rigid classroom climate enforced by hostile methods at a suboptimal level of performance. In either case, burnout takes a serious toll on resources, teachers, students and schools.

A promising approach to enhancing the well-being and learning outcomes of children and teachers is the provisions of training in mindfulness in schools. By using mindfulness-based interventions in the classroom, students can benefit from positive outcomes in well-being such as reducing anxiety and distress as well as improving behaviour. For example, in one study mindfulness training was delivered to students in 15-min sessions 3 times per week for a total of 5 weeks. After this period, teachers reported improved classroom behaviour in their students such as paying more attention, enhanced self-control, increased participation in activities, and more caring and respect for others (Black & Fernando, 2013). Similarly, teachers can increase their well-being and teaching effectiveness by improving their ability to manage classroom behaviour and establish and maintain supportive relationships with students (Meiklejohn et al, 2012). For instance, in one study a group of pre-school teachers attended an 8-week mindfulness course. During the mindfulness training for these teachers, levels of challenging behaviours decreased and there was an increase in compliance with teacher’ requests (Singh et al, 2013).




Figure 1. The Pro Social Classroom: A Model of Teacher Social and Emotional Competence and Classroom and Child Outcomes


Now Unlimited is developing a Mindfulness Teacher Training Programme that is underpinned by the Prosocial Classroom Model; using mindfulness-based approaches to help improve teachers’ resilience and emotional health, wellbeing and to explore if this positively impacts upon their relationships with students, their classroom management skills and how this affects the social, emotional and academic outcomes of students. In using this approach Now Unlimited builds upon research undertaken by Maureen O’Callaghan into teacher stress and recent consultations with managers, teachers and support staff working in primary, secondary and special schools and FE colleges.


  • Association of Teachers and Lecturers (2014). Pressures on teachers causing rise in mental health issues. Press Release. Retrieved from: http://goo.gl/XbrkZP
  • Black, D. & Fernando, R. (2013). Mindfulness training and classroom behaviour among lower-income and ethnic minority elementary school children. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 1–5.
  • Currie, J., & Stabile, M. (2009). Mental health in childhood and human capital. In Gruber, J. (Ed.). The Problems of Disadvantaged Youth: An Economic Perspective. Chicago: University Chicago Press.
  • Fletcher, J. (2008). Adolescent depression: diagnosis, treatment, and educational attainment. Health Economics, 17, 1215–1235.
  • Green, H., et al. (2005). Mental health of children and young people in Great Britain, 2004. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
  • Kuyken, W., et al. (2013). Effectiveness of the mindfulness in schools programme: Non-randomised controlled feasibility study. British Journal of Psychiatry, 203(2), 126–131.
  • Meiklejohn, J., et al. (2012). Integrating Mindfulness Training into K-12 Education: Fostering the Resilience of Teachers and Students. Mindfulness, 3, 291–307.
  • ONS (2014). Measuring national well-being – Exploring the well-being of young people in the UK, 2014. Office for National Statistics. Retrieved from: http://goo.gl/4zed7H
  • Patel, V., et al. (2007). Mental health of young people: a global public-health challenge. The Lancet, 369, 1302–1313.
  • Singh, N., et al. (2013). Mindfulness training for teachers changes the behaviour of their preschool students. Research in Human Development, 10(3), 211–233.
  • Van Ameringen, M., Mancini, C., & Farvolden, P. (2003). The impact of anxiety disorders on educational achievement. Journal of Anxiety Disorders, 17, 561–571.

Mindfulness and Education

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